Further Thoughts on Male Image

This follow-up article about Male Image was written in response to a comment by Molly posted to the original article below.   It started out as a small reply by Pandora but soon grew to article length, at which point Tasi felt that other readers would also want to see the follow-up.

I both agree and disagree.    I totally agree that there’s a strong element of worrying about what others think.   That almost goes without saying for most people and in most areas of life.   It’s a factor that comes into play no matter what the topic, and discovering that she has a non-traditional husband is a huge topic for most women.

If that’s all it were, though, the issue could be solved by the husband’s agreeing to keep it strictly secret.   In fact, if dealing with others’ opinions were the main stumbling block, a wife would have no problem with her husband’s dressing at home as long as the curtains were closed and no one ever knew.    As most CDers know, the issue is rarely solved that easily.

arnoldschwarzenegger1I don’t believe that we can disregard the attraction to maleness per se, the thing that women themselves tend to label “male image”.   You mention things like breadwinner and societal stereotypes, but sometimes those are more important to the  man himself, who’s been conditioned to expect certain things of himself.   Traditionally men felt intensely the burden of providing well for their families, but given the economics of the U.S. for the last 30 years, that burden is shared more and more by both partners.    Some women do still dream of the total provider, but not the way they once did.   A wife’s working, even from need, doesn’t seriously cut into her ability to see her husband as “all man”.

I totally agree that men who meet the societal stereotype of manliness can be less than ideal partners.   A man doesn’t have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger to project a fully male image, and, in fact, most of us prefer our men to not be overly aggressive and to speak more than 20 words a day.  It’s OK to not have rippling muscles or to coach your daughter’s T-ball team, and it’s also OK Man cooking at stove in kitchen, smiling, portraitto be a better cook than your wife.   These are modern male roles.   What’s not OK is to step across the line that divides male and female.   I know that in reality that’s a very fluid division, but I’m speaking of the general line a mainstream heterosexual woman senses when she enters into a partnership with a man.    In her eyes he can earn less, cook better, be a great nurturer to the kids and still be fully male.   What he can’t do is need to spend part of his time not being a man.  Whereas she might even accept his occasionally putting a silky dress on his obviously male body, once he creates a feminine persona for a part of himself, he has self-announced that he isn’t comfortable being 100% male 100% of the time.   As a woman who expected to partner with an “opposite” 24/7, that’s a whammy.

As I mentioned in the first article, many women feel that they should be able to accept a partner who’s outside the gender norms, especially because she already loves him as a person.  Her modern brain tells her this, but she’s got internal feelings pulling her in another direction.   I totally disagree with those that disregard our ancient hard-wiring or claim that it doesn’t matter.   It’s there and it causes lots of conflicts.

Fifty Shades of Gray is an example of this.    Many women were deeply conflicted over their fascination with this series, because they knew that they “shouldn’t” be attracted to the male dominant figure.     Several book reviewers commented on the fact that, because in the end the female rejected her submissive role, women could have it both ways.    They could fully relish the dominance-submission interplay of the book and then feel they were still meeting society’s modern expectations because in the end the woman walked away.   They got to have their cake and eat it too, if you will.

Why do I bring up these books?    They weren’t particularly well written, yet they had an adoring following amongst women of all ages, and it wasn’t their rational brain doing the following.   It’s that old inner wiring that sometimes they themselves don’t understand or even agree with, the wiring that makes them swoon in the presence of a dominant male.   The image of a man who is dominant to the point that it would be socially unacceptable in today’s world still has a huge pull on women’s imaginations, even if they wouldn’t want to live permanently with such a man in real life.   Most women only admit these kinds of feelings to their best friends, but they’re very much there.  It’s what keeps Cosmo in business.

Women don’t expect their partners to be stereotypically “male” 24/7.   When a modern couple lives together, their relationship usually plays out in such a way that the husband won’t always seem like the caveman conqueror.    It’s real life, and we all have our ups and our downs, our good days and our bad.    But in a “straight” heterosexual relationship, even on the bad days the gender lines are clear.   Your wife may be laughing at your unsuccessful attempt to fix the broken shelf (less than full he-man of the stereotypes?), but she has no doubts that you’re the man in the relationship, even if not a particularly handy one.

man doing nailsSharing with your wife that you’re also Mimi and wondering how she protects her French nails when gardening is a  totally different ballgame.   You may not have been a perfect male, but you were male.  You were her ballast, the male that balanced her female.   Not all women have a strong need for this yin-yang, but a large number do, and for them, how do you compromise on who’s who?    You feel a need to fully express who you are by living in both the male and female modes, but if she doesn’t share your gender fluidity, she’s just lost something huge.   When you’re female, where’s her male partner, the one she expected to always have?

You spoke of internal conflict.   Of course it causes a huge internal conflict for the woman.   If she has a husband who wants to live as both male and female, what, if anything, does that say about her?   I’m sure there are some women who do wonder if there’s something wrong with them or if they’ve made a bad decision, but that’s maybe an inevitable part of the early shock of learning such a drastic new piece of information about their husband.

Once the early shock and recriminations work through, though, very real issues remain.  For a woman who loves the maleness of men, even real-life flawed ones, she either has to give up her own hopes of living in a fulfilling relationship or she has to break up a relationship that until then had been something she wanted.    I know many will say that she can still have that fulfilling relationship much or even most of the time, but that will circle us back to the original article’s concept of male image, something that lots and lots of women instinctively understand.   Yes, her husband may be dressed like a total stud at that moment, but her whole image of him has changed.   It’s possible that she can learn to live with a less-than-full-time male, but even when he’s in male mode she’ll be carrying the image of him as both.    For most women, it does affect the relationship.   It doesn’t always mean the end of the relationship, but it does mean a changed relationship.

There’s one more question to consider, and that’s the one of fairness.   In therapy, the emphasis is almost always on supporting the needs of the TG, and those needs are very real, but often that puts the equally real needs of the partner on the defensive.   When we marry, we expect our spouse to continue in the gender we first knew them as, not just some of the time but all of the time.   It’s such a given that it’s rarely even discussed.     I do think that the soul searching that follows the discovery that a partner cross dresses is a good thing.    Being forced to think about our own assumptions and even prejudices is a positive experience leading to greater tolerance and self-growth.   Too often, though, the woman is made to feel defective because she doesn’t want a husband who is male only part of the time, and I don’t know how that’s different than making the husband feel defective because he needs to fully express his female side.   It may be that their emotional needs simply don’t allow for both to be feel satisfied in the marriage.   It’s not about blame, it’s about differences.

I seem to have taken quite a journey through the neighborhood, but as you know, the question of how his wife or partner views him is one of the thorniest problems that a TG has to deal with.   The women_talkinganswer for each couple will vary slightly, but there are themes that return with great frequency.    Although the original article didn’t deal with this, “What will the neighbors say?” is definitely one of those themes, and most women anguish over it.    The concept of male image, though, is mentioned too frequently by women themselves to be dismissed as a side issue.    Right or wrong, we want our men to present as men.    Flawed, funny, stumbling . . .  it’s all OK as long as we can look at you and see that you’re our men.    It’s when we can’t that the trouble begins.


12 thoughts on “Further Thoughts on Male Image

  1. i told my wife long before we were married. so there was no “betrayal” of trust at play. In fact it was still a nascent relationship… and when I told her she expressed that she “knew something was different” about me. But in our case it was a good thing. I will not get into the specifics of why my wife is incredibly supporting and encouraging because we all have a different journey in life. her reasons will never be YOUR wife’s reasons… but here is the thing: After a few years… as naturally dominant as she is… as naturally submissive as I am… the whole “male image” thing, (though not stated by that name), definitely became a HUGE issue… we worked hard to get past it and we did… it was mostly me getting past feeling like her opinion / acceptance had changed… Don’t forget all the self-doubt you yourself have – even though you’ve always known you are a crossdresser… even if you accepted it, you have had these feelings. now even though she accepted it, it was her turn to have those feelings. We got past it. We almost didn’t. It was THAT scary. I am probably more feminine now and my femme side has, with her nudging, has become more integrated into our lives and my appearance… but there was a time where she doubted it all and definitely needed reassurance, live and support of her own. I still wrestle w/ “what about the neighbors” aspect, but my best friends now and so do my parents. My siblings do not and likely won’t. Or maybe they suspect. Who knows? Just don’t forget that your wife is a woman… she needs her man, even if she loves and encourages you as “her”… its a delicate balance that only the two people involved will know how to achieve. Best of Luck!

  2. Pandora,
    This is a very accurate and frank realization that many of us fail to acknowledge or admit. I’ve been married for over 25 yrs and the last 20 of them working thru the issues of my wife’s perception of my male self vs. The female self, and for us, it really comes down to understanding just how much the values and perceptions we’re taught affect us. My wife is a fine and absolutely wonderful person, but believe me when I say, ‘she has a very real vision or perception of who and what her husband is vs who I really am.’
    The biggest issue that we work at is, what we’ve been raised to believe against the reality of the moment. I have to constantly remind myself that she not only wants the man she married, but she also needs the man she married. So when she has no interest in seeing or hearing about kathleen or anything kathleen related I respect it in the largest way. Time has taught me to understand this, early in the journey she was much more open to it, but as time went by she became more unsure of who she thought I was and where all this was going. Ok, so where’s all this going, the couple we were is not the same couple we are now. We still love each other and respect each other but the lines and the bounderies of normalcy our relationship have changed, and we have worked at it everyday. Many people aren’t able to do this, many are, but fewer will make the effort to redraw the definitions of the roles we were each taught to hold in our relationships. It can be done, but it is a daily effort, early on, to redefine ourselves, but overtime you replace old ideas, expectations and behaviors with the actual reality that you are really living. Keep writing articles of this nature, an unexamined life can be a wasted life. Change, understanding, compassion are all good things.

  3. I not being married but have a girlfriend who doesn’t live with me 100% yet is over a great deal accepts it on some levels. I actually make her believe or possibly she assumes I dress more often than I actually do. Its a frame of mind which I think she doesn’t quite understand. I think her biggest fear is that I will turn gay, which is not the case at all.
    I actually flaunted it a bit once when we were not getting along and she wanted to come over. I refer to it as “playing” with her. When she announced she didn’t care that time and I was feeling bold she was around me somewhat dressed, no make-up. I sensed an uncomfortable feeling deep down with her at my being dressed that way, which in turn took away that frame of mind in me.

    Other than that the only time she has ever seen me dressed at all was in a hotel experimenting with her clothes. She even did my face with make-up there, then said she was scared at how real it looked and that it made her uncomfortable.

    I’m sure getting that far with most married men might be a dream. Not always though and not with her.

  4. You have a wonderful mind and I love the way it works. If I could possibly keep up with it.

    I am surprised though at your inability to digest those results on a ten-scale. To ask someone to put anything in a rating on a ten-scale kind of isn’t fair. Honestly I use it quite often in having people describe items or vehicles they are selling site unseen. Even reminding them ten being new, as a relationship being the best it could be or was expected to be?

    Immediately a woman in most cases will think of the sacrifices and compromises she has given. Where is a man usually will look at his level of overall happiness. I have also found one persons idea of a 5 over another can be quite different too. Which can also affect the outcome to such results.

    Of course the wife who the most secure in her own thinking about herself and the relationship she has with her husband is less apt to find this forever changed but not necessarily for the worse relationship something they can deal with. How much those people worry about what others in their family or society think will determine the ability for success in that new thinking.

    We can agree in these cases it is the women who grunt the greatest burden of acceptance. In saying so those four points lower can and will usually say who will be expected to do most of the accepting in the relationship overall.

  5. I am not sure about the original article but what come into question I notice with my relationship with my girlfriend is any desires I may have in the sexual roles we both may play. She seems very uncomfortable having a man that may want to see the reversal of those roles even if it be occasional. Fear possibly of me turning gay or her being asked to be a more dominate in any context. Although she enjoys a more nurturing role by me as long as her submissive role stays intact. Her feelings about being with a woman sexually are a complete turn off. Or so she says.

  6. Another excellent article, Pandora.

    A woman who wants a fully straight man – not necessarily “macho” (which isn’t always a bad thing), but just simply straight – she will not want a CD because a CD is not fully straight. Even if he has no sexual desire for other men, and even if he could actually prove to her that he doesn’t, he is still not completely straight, and I think that’s going to worry her.

    Being straight or gay or lesbian or bi isn’t JUST about who you sleep with. It’s also about how you are most comfortable, how you see yourself, and how you prefer to be seen. During a relationship, these things usually manifest. She already knows about the cross-dressing, but she doesn’t know what else could manifest a year or two down the line. And neither does the CD.

    At least in a straight relationship, she knows what’s common and what to watch for, and she can probably better understand a straight guy than she can understand a CD. So I submit that a CD’s violation of the Male Image doesn’t just lead to her losing belief in the CD’s maleness, it also introduces fear of the unknown.

  7. Thanks for the kind words.

    If the woman had no prior idea that her husband was a cross dresser, it’s almost always far outside the norm of her expectations. Because cross dressing has probably been part of her husband’s thinking for decades, it’s hard for him to realize just how alien the idea can be for his wife. Any accommodation most definitely will need the participation of both.

  8. Pandora,
    Two excellent articles with outstanding insight into both the male and female mentality.
    Having a husband who cross dresses is often outside the norm of expectations and every couple needs to come to an accomodation. Sometimes it will work out well…other times not at all.
    The idea that the terms are new and need the participation of both partners to adjust is a good one.
    Thank you for the fine writing and for taking the time to address this important relationship point.

  9. I don’t disagree with several of your points. The original article was really only trying to explain a female way of thinking process-wise, not necessarily outcome-wise, i.e., we think more cumulatively than do most men, and that the “whole picture’ way we see things is hard for men to understand. I wasn’t trying to say that women would never accept a CD husband. I do believe that most but not all would be happier without it in the picture, a fact that men themselves often admit. There’s a truce, but only occasionally whole-hearted acceptance. It does happen though, and it sounds like your wife is reasonably accepting.

    As for your comments about people’s ability to accept new ideas, I too think that (most) people can do so, at least in the sphere we’re speaking of. Very often, though, the accepting of new ideas is in theory and stops at the doorstep when it involves one’s own husband. She can deal with the rest of the world intellectually, but her emotions come into full play when it’s about her own family.

    In summarizing my point of view, you used a much stronger term than did I. I said that it would inevitably change the relationship, and that a new one would have to be worked out based on her new knowledge of you. You used the term “spoil”, a much more negative term that I don’t actually agree with. It does spoil the original arrangement, but it doesn’t necessarily spoil any chance for a future one. The couple does need to come to new terms, though, if that’s possible. For many it is, and for many others it isn’t. (I think it must be very scary for a CD husband whose wife doesn’t know and who is trying to decide whether or not to tell her.)

    One last point that applies to the whole two-article discussion is something I briefly alluded to in the first, and that is that most women are masters at “settling”. It sounds very derogatory, but I don’t mean it as an insult to the men with whom they “settle”. I think it’s precisely because they do carry along with them so much in terms of memories, impressions, etc. that they have to settle. There are no perfects in life. I once read a study that blew me out of the water, and in fact I still have a hard time digesting it. The study had interviewed couples and asked them to rate their marriages on a 10-point scale. (Obviously I’m simplifying here.) The results were that the men on average rated their marriages four points higher than did the women! Think about what that means. That’s a huge difference based on a 10-point scale, and I would venture to say that a large number of those women still said they loved their husbands. I think that women accept a lot more of the imperfects than men sometimes realize. They don’t like them (the imperfects, not the men themselves), they roll their eyes and joke about them with their friends, but they hang in there. Whether or not finding out her husband cross dresses is going to be too big an imperfect to accommodate sometimes the woman herself doesn’t know until somewhat down the road.

    In any case, I definitely wasn’t saying that the relationship was forever ruined, only that it was forever changed. When trying to work out the new relationship, if the husband has a bit more insight into how his wife processes and stores information, the chance of succeeding increases.

  10. I totally agree that by not seeing you dressed she can almost ignore it. It stays as knowledge rather than experience. It may not be the outcome that men hope for, but it is one that works well for a lot of couples.

  11. Good article, well written, true-sounding.
    However, something bothers me about it. Maybe it is because I do not want this to be true. Or maybe it isn’t?
    It sounds likely that most women would initially react the way you describe, Pandora. Most people have been raised with the deeply rooted idea that gender equals sex and sex is best with the other gender, and when their husband suddenly destabilizes these “gender pillars” it is very understandable that uncertainty sets in and attraction suffers.
    However, I find that people are generally smart and many are willing to accept new ideas, especially when shown that the unthinkable is actually workable. Your hypothesis is, if I understand it correctly, that even if a wife intellectually, rationally accepts her husbands crossdressing, the knowledge and memory of his CD-ing would forever spoil the relation emotionally. But why must this be forever?
    Okay, a persons sexual preference may rarely change. Perhaps it is biologically rooted, or rooted to far and deep back in our childhood, I don’t know. It would surprise me if any significant share of women who are attracted to men only would suddenly start being attracted to femininity. But the knowledge, memory and images of their CD-ing husband is a fairly recent thing in their life, and I would expect many women to be willing and able to work through this new thing in their life together with their husband and establish a new stability.
    Oh well, what do I know. From the stories I hear from fellow crossdressers the outcomes are mixed. Myself, I am blessed with a wife that renormalized our life pretty quickly after she discovered my CDing. I asked her if she felt that her having seen me in my femme mode (very often) had a negative impact on our relation or love life. She said that she does not feel particularly attracted to me when en femme, but when I am in male mode things are as before. She knows Lyta very well but has come to terms with her and even enjoys her. But, she wants her Original Man to be around regularly as well, and when he is, Lyta is not interfering.
    Maybe my wife is unique (even in this respect 🙂 — but at least she is a counterexample here.

  12. Your article in my opinion, really nails the subject. My wife of over 42 year’s has never seen me dressed. I told her after 10 year’s after she found a paper with a woman’s name and #. A couple of years ago she saw a very nice pic of me that I had left in the car. Her only comment was that she didn’t like it. I think by her not seeing me dressed my femme side is not real to her or not as disturbing. As much as I would like to have my wife accept my femme side I don’t push it on her. My marriage and family is too important to me.

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